Currently spending time with his dad and brother in Aptos, a small town in Santa Cruz County, California, Kort Peterson is reflecting on his journey in baseball, but also in life. Now, with his 2020 season on hold, just like everything else in the world at this moment in time, it gave Kort time to pause and think about how exactly he got to where he is today.
How did he do it? Was it luck? Pure talent? Motivation caused by the constant support of his family.
Kort has had to overcome challenges in many aspects of his entire life. Yes, of course the obvious: on the baseball diamond. That’s not where the challenges started though; it was when he was a kid that Kort knew his life was going to be built around that one, complicated word: adversity.
In 1997, when Kort and his twin brother Eric were three years old, their parents (Jeff & Karen) noticed Eric was thirsty all of the time, and seemed to get tired more easily than Kort. They brought it up during a routine visit to the pediatrician and, within a few months, learned Eric had pediatric diabetes. Six months later they discovered Eric also had leukemia.
At the age of 3 years old, Kort faced adversity, and needed the traits of strength, courage, and perseverance not only for himself, but his whole family.
Four years later, Kort’s mom, Karen, was diagnosed with lung cancer in March, 2001. Karen passed away in 2002. During this time, they simply couldn’t believe this was happening to their family, especially following Eric’s illnesses.
Since then, Kort and Eric's father, Jeff, has devoted his life to being a good father to Kort and Eric as well as honoring Karen by starting the Peterson Family Foundation in 2003. Both Kort and Eric have been heavily involved in their family foundation since the beginning.
In Kort’s early teenage years, he was also diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. None of that inhibited his, or Eric’s, ambition and love for life.
A family tradition that still exists today, during the holidays the Peterson family visit the children’s hospital in San Francisco where Eric had been treated for leukemia. Each year they donated Starbucks cards to the nursing staff and provided iTunes cards, iPads and headphones to the hospitalized children and teens.
This actually inspired the family to do more and turned it into a passion for music therapy, which led to the development of the Peterson Family Foundation Music Therapy Program at the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital.
Since 2003, the foundation has supported medical research into pediatric cancer, diabetes, and mesothelioma. Now with a focus on supporting pediatric leukemia research, the foundation is involved in all aspects of clinical care, including the research that leads to new, effective treatments, as well as the therapies that support the whole child through their medical journey.
If you open up the English dictionary and find the word adversity, you will see this definition: a state or instance of serious or continued difficulty or misfortune.
The example that the dictionary gives for the word sums up the mission statement of Kort’s life: “showing courage in the face of adversity”.
Kort needed somehow to find a way to try to feel connected with his mom, and it was through the game of baseball. A game that is built on adversity. A game that is preached to have nearly identical similarities to life: ups and downs, failures, defeats, victories, and championships.
“Baseball teaches some of the best lessons out there,” Kort said, summing it up.
Drafted in June of 2016 by the Kansas City Royals, Kort and his family knew he’d accomplished something that very few people have the chance to do so.
Kort played in Burlington four years ago in 2016, his first taste of ‘professional baseball’. Sure, he had played baseball his entire life, as well as many other sports, but baseball is his love, his passion.
The challenge? The heat. It was the overwhelming humid warmth that, surprisingly, Kort was not expecting. Thinking he would be used to it coming from California, this was a ‘different’ kind of heat, and he was put to the test his first season.
Looking back on that season in Burlington, the first moment that came to mind was not one of his own. It was when he was playing alongside Nicky Lopez, and Nicky lined a base hit over the head of the Princeton shortstop to walk off a playoff game.
“It was electric. That was such a fun team, and memories I will never forget being a part of,” Kort said.
When asked to recall a personal memory from that season, Kort responded jokingly, “I don’t really talk about myself at all, but I do remember going 4 for 4, one homerun, two doubles, and a single, though I did come up short of a cycle (missing the triple) after struggling early on. That was pretty memorable to me.
”During the offseason, he is currently studying at UCLA, and has two more semesters of school before he gets his degree in business. If he wasn’t playing baseball, he said he loves the business world and would love to work in the sports industry.
But he did say, “I don’t want to think about that yet! Getting my degree is a way for me to have a challenge in the offseason, an academic challenge, that is.
"Like in the beginning, Kort and his family have faced challenges every day of life in many ways. Some may ask how he could possibly have the strength to do it, and rightfully so. It sometimes can be overwhelming to ask someone to face ‘real world’ challenges at the young age Kort was. His response?
“Keep hope. Never give up. When life hits you hard, and it will, keep going forward. Push yourself. And most importantly be a support to others."
Alex Feuz is the broadcaster and reporter for the Burlington Royals. You can follow @alexfeuz on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.